Friday, August 14, 2009
Many patients have asked me to explain addiction and to tell them what they can do about it. This thing called, "Addiction/Chemical Dependency/Alcoholism" is, in my opinion, the most insidious disease in existence today.
Why do I combine all three as though they're the same thing? Because they are the same thing! In other words, a drug, is a drug, is a drug! Make no mistake about it, alcohol is every bit as dangerous a drug as any illicit drug being sold on the streets. Alcohol just takes longer to kill it's victim than street drugs! But, whether it's alcohol, Methamphetamine, Crack, or Heroin . . . they all have the power to cause death when repeatedly abused. Addiction is a disease . . . it is a disease because the American Medical Association ranks it the third top killer disease in our country; third only to Heart Disease and Lung Cancer! To be ranked as a disease, an illness must include four components. These four components of the illness in question are that the illness must be:
- Primary: It must be an illness in and of itself. In other words, it cannot be an illness caused by some more serious illness (i.e. the headaches caused by a brain tumor).
- Progressive: It must continue to worsen on an ongoing basis regardless of the length of time the sufferer spends doing nothing that could worsen the illness (i.e. the cigarette smoker who stops smoking after being diagnosed with lung cancer).
- Chronic: Once the individual has it, it's not going to go away! It is not curable . . . however, it is treatable and can go into remission! (Just like the diabetic who is able to lead a relatively normal life with insulin!)
- Fatal: The illness must have the capacity to result in death if not treated. Death can be caused either directly or indirectly from this disease. For example, some addicts die from Cirrhosis of the Liver while others may die from a car crash while intoxicated or high.
Something else that research has revealed is that unless this disease is treated, it will result in one of three things:
Tragically, countless addicts/alcoholics have experienced all three. How to avoid it? If there has been a parent or ancestor who experienced an addiction to any mood-altering substance (incuding, of course, alcohol) the only way to be certain that you can avoid it is to never imbibe, or use anything that is mood-altering . . . not ever! You see, although there is no cure, we do, at least now understand the cause!
The cause is three-fold. It is:
(each of the three exist in varying degrees in every addicted individual depending upon the details of their Bio-Psycho-Social History, which must be collected by an addiction professional).
I refer to this disease as "insidious" because three of the primary symptoms of addiction are denial, delusion and blame. These three symptoms succeed at forming the foundation for many other symptoms. Together, these symptoms create a nearly impenetrable wall of defenses. The defenses are the behaviors the addict/alcoholic uses to keep his or her loved ones from being able to reach the real person trapped inside these walls. It's as if the addict/alcoholic is held hostage by their very drug of choice. Due to the denial of this disease, the addict is quite literally unable to see the destructive cycle in which he has been caught up.
From this stems the symptom of blame, i.e. when confronted with his self-destructive use of chemicals by anyone close to him, he instantly feels attacked. The logical (illogical) rationalization that results from feeling attacked is to blame the "attacker" for attacking him! Herein lies the addict's delusion. In the addict's mind, the only logical thing to do when "attacked" is to point the finger of blame. His chemicals render him blind to the truth. To the addict, this interpretation of reality, truly is his reality! The negative effect of his addiction leaves him helpless to view the happenings in his life any other way. His delusion prevents him from being able to see clearly. This, again, is his addiction doing his thinking and his talking for him, (i.e. the figurative description I used earlier of the real person being held hostage by his chemical of choice.
The symptoms of denial, delusion and blame most often require some type of intervention whereby the addict is diligently, yet repeatedly faced with the facts of the shambles his life has become. However, if this process is not handled in a manner that exercises the greatest amount of compassion, void of all blaming or shaming, it will fail miserably. There are many professionals throughout the country who are highly skilled at performing this delicate process of an "Intervention." Most can be located by contacting any local chemical dependency treatment center in your area.
The majority of successful recovering patients who I've treated, maintain their recovery by using a twelve-step meeting program in the same way that the Diabetic uses Insulin, or the Cancer patient, Chemotherapy. I believe that this is successful for those who are committed to remaining chemically-free, because it is a new way of life that replaces the "using" way of life. It's a lot like anything else, in that, if we remove something negative from our lives that took-up any of our time, it's crucial that we replace it with something positive that we can spend that time doing, instead! Because of the insidious nature of addiction whereby denial is one of the primary symptoms, your loved one may be unable to reach out for help on their own! Check the yellow pages for Chemical Dependency and/or Alcohol Treatment Programs, or punch this into your computer on-line. Many local hospitals also have an addiction treatment program. But do this! You may be saving someone's life! Remember, to be "straight" is to be free!
An example of an individual reaching out for help is the following e-mail I received. I requested the author's permission to print it just in case it can be of help to anyone else: I read your blog on addiction on your myspace. It has helped bring perspective about my partner's illness for me. The sad part is he is unwilling to give up alcohol and is slowly killing himself and does not seem to care about that. Anyway, thanks for that blog. There is so much more going on in my life with him but you don't have time for that nor do I have the money. I just wanted you to know I appreciated it. - Jones
My response: Dear Jones, The best thing that you can do right now, is to start going to Al-anon meetings on a weekly basis. Many, many alcoholics have (sooner or later) followed their spouse/partner into a twelve step program and found sobriety!! It is the best way that you can help him . . . . . . and, yourself. You may have to try out a few meetings before you find one that is right for you. An Al-anon meeting should not be a "bitch session" about the alcoholic. It should consist of members sharing their strength and their hope with each other (i.e. the different ways they use the 12 steps to accomplish this). Your partner is lucky to have you in his corner. So, take care of yourself and get some help, okay? When he sees you becoming happier and coping more easily with your shared dilemma, it is highly likely that he will end up wanting the same things (i.e. peace of mind and serenity) for himself! Hang in there, and let me know how it's going. ~
Believe it or not, it is really quite impossible for anyone to love and live with an addict/alcoholic without growing emotionally ill, too. Sound harsh? I know. But, if you're in this type of relationship, bear with me. I have some information for you that you just might find helpful. First, you'll need to keep an open mind. That can be especially tough for those individuals who have opened their minds already to every possible wish, hope and dream . . . only to have them all shattered by either alcohol or other drugs. Loving an alcoholic/addict isn't easy. Many who love or have loved an addict started out on that relationship journey believing that they could change the person ie. "If only I just love him enough I can make all the difference and then he won't need that awful drug anymore!") Not so. But then, I don't have to tell you that. You've more than likely already learned from painful experience.
If, on the other hand, you happen to be someone who is considering a relationship with someone who abuses alcohol and/or other drugs, perhaps you've had somebody close to you warn you not to move forward with the relationship. Or, perhaps your own inner voice has silently verbalized warnings to you and you aren't sure what you should do. If you're reading this blog, chances are that there's somebody in your life with whom you're involved who has a problem with one kind of drug or another. If you're not already over your head in a relationship with a person who abuses drugs (and alcohol is every bit as much a drug as any other) be forewarned: You will never be able to change anybody but yourself! If you believe otherwise, you've already begun slipping into the delusion that your addicted loved one lives with! There is only one thing that can stop an addict from abusing his or her chemical. I will tell you exactly what that is: "The pain of the consequences of their use must outweigh the effects of the high for them to want to stop!" Will they tell you they want to and/or are even going to stop? Absolutely!
Many times, over and over again if you'll hang around long enough to listen! Is their chemical use your fault? Absolutely not! It's nobody's fault . . . chemical dependency is a disease (see my 1st addiction blog for details about this.) You can honestly trust that that disease is much, much bigger than you and your loved one put together! So, if you're at the stage of toying with the idea of an involvement with someone who abuses drugs, what should you do? Run away as fast as you can!!!!!!! (While there is still time for you to think clearly!) If, on the other hand, you are married to an addict/alcoholic or living with one, these are some helpful strategies that you can choose to use:
- Don't make excuses for the person. Allow the person to take responsibility for their own actions (even if you think it's going to kill you to do this!)
- Don't destroy their alcohol or drug supply. They'll only go out and get more where that supply came from! (Unless the drugs are of the "illegal" kind - in which case you have every right and must make it clear that the drug will not be allowed in your home and that if it is brought into your home you will call the police to come and confiscate them!)
- Don't scream at them or name call. Would you scream at someone for having cancer? Of course not. Your loved one is every bit as ill as anyone suffering from cancer!
- Don't make threats of leaving the individual unless you fully intend to follow through by doing so! Empty threats only destroy your credibility and add fuel to his or her resentments toward you! Whenever you scream and/or threaten you place yourself in the unrealistic light of being the bad-guy! (I say "unrealistic" because your drug abusing loved one's thinking is quite distorted but very real to him, nonetheless!
- Seek help from a professional who is skilled at performing an intervention. Most Chemical Dependency Treatment Centers can assist you with locating this professional. If you've already tried this and weren't successful, you may want to consider legal commitment proceedings so that your loved one will be forced into treatment. Will he hate you? Yes, for a little while. But once he's had the time to begin to see things more clearly, the time will come when he will undoubtedly thank you.
- Does he (or she) become physically abusive toward you or someone else in the family when under the influence? If so, call 911! Along with assuring everyone's safety, please be aware that many an addict has found the help he (or she) needed for his illness of addiction with a little help from the courts!
- Most importantly, and as I mentioned in my earlier article about addiction, Get help for yourself! Find yourself a healthy Al-Anon Meeting and go there every week! Just go to the yellow pages of your telephone directory and look under "A" for Alcoholics Anonymous. Call that phone number and ask where to find the nearest and very next Al-Anon Meeting! Then, when you go to that meeting, seek out a meeting that is not a blame-session of the drug addict. Seek instead, a meeting where members utilize the twelve steps to help themselves and each other maintain the strength, courage and autonomy to become and remain emotionally healthy!
Paradoxically, your addicted loved one may just decide to follow suit after he or she sees that you are truly content in your own life and no longer trying to change theirs! God bless and good luck to you always!